×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

For ‘Tenenbaums’ design team, it’s all in details

Film recreates New York in its own vision

Designed down to the spots on the Dalmatian mice, the majesty of “The Royal Tenenbaums” is found in its attention to the minute details that ground the eccentric family of former geniuses firmly in reality, albeit a reality that is completely fictitious.

Shot in Gotham, the setting is a kind of parallel New York haunted by the styles of the late ’70s to early ’80s. It’s this kind of parallel universe that inspired both the Art Directors Guild and the Costume Designers Guild to include the film among their respective nominees for contemporary film achievement.

“(Director-co-writer Wes Anderson) was very particular about the fact that the city wasn’t New York. If you watch the movie closely, you’ll notice that we changed out all the street signs,” says art director Carl Sprague. “Even in choosing locations, we avoided picking any recognizable New York landmarks. It serves to sort of mythologize the story a bit.”

However, the locale did make finding and building the film’s approximately 250 sets a challenge. Central Park Zoo became the rain forest of New Guinea and a quarry in New Jersey became the Andes. For the vignette of tennis player Richie’s televised breakdown, they restored Forest Hill’s tennis stadium, putting down 10,000 square feet of AstroTurf.

Anderson found the family’s house in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights a year in advance, derelict but with intact Tiffany glass windows. The residence was completely restored and doubled as a set and ministudio.

The look was built on a such a small scale that it mostly hits the viewer on the subconscious level. A pink theme runs through the interior of the house and in such apparel as Royal’s ties, Etheline’s suit and Margot’s 4½-fingered glove. Giraffes haunt Margot’s childhood, inhabiting her room’s wallpaper, her play and the museum she runs away to with Richie. And some visual oddities, like the boar in the game closet, provide comic relief.

“(Anderson) had a rather specific group of ideas that we carried out. This wasn’t something that was sort of just thrown together,” says production designer David Wasco. “Everything was anguished over and scrutinized and redone if it wasn’t absolutely what he had in his mind.”

“From the beginning, Wes said that he wanted this to be highly stylized, so I knew I could go pretty far,” says costume designer Karen Patch, whose ’70s duds were inspired by historical figures like Kofi Annan and Bjorn Borg. Her attention to detail resulted in the use of such fabrics as cashmere, camel hair and tweed.

“We’ve worked together so many times before,” says Patch, “that we can cut through the red tape and know what to anticipate.”

More Film

  • China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches

    China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches $557 Million in Second Week

    The winning films from Chinese New Year remained on top of the Chinese box office in their second normal weekend of release. Locally-made sci-fi film “The Wandering Earth” advanced its score to $557 million. “Wandering Earth” earned $88.8 million between Friday and Monday, according to data from Asian film industry consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was [...]

  • Nuno Beato’s ‘My Grandfather’ Part of

    ‘My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons’ Marks Sardinha em Lata’s Animation Build

    Portuguese animator-producer-director Nuno Beato, whose credits include “Emma & Gui,” “Híssis” and the multi-prized “My Life In Your Hands,” will pitch a new project, currently in development, “My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons” at Bordeaux’s upcoming Cartoon Movie, the leading European animated feature forum. Cartoon Movie runs March 5-7. Combining 2D and stop-motion, [...]

  • DF-10193 – L-R: Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor),

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Leads MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed up love from Cinema Audio Society sound mixers with a pair of honors at the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Sunday night. The musical biopic scored wins for dialogue and ADR as well as sound editing in a musical. The film is nominated for sound editing at the Oscars [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" in

    Writers Guild Makes It Official: This Is the Most Wide-Open Oscars Race Ever

    For the record, we’re in uncharted territory this Oscar season. While we still have the costume designers’ ceremony to get through on Tuesday, the Writers Guild Awards put a bow on the major guild kudos circuit Sunday night. The results have yielded what is, unequivocally, the most wide-open Oscar field in history. The major guild [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” The major television trophies went to “The Americans,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Homeland” and “Barry” for the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

  • ABA_062_DAU_0060_v0409.87501 – Rosa Salazar stars as

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' Wins Dismal President's Day Weekend

    Fox’s sci-fi adventure “Alita: Battle Angel” dominated in North America, but its opening weekend win isn’t leaving the box office with much to celebrate. Tracking services estimate that this will be one of the lowest grossing President’s Day weekends in years. Ticket sales are on pace to be the smallest bounty for the holiday frame [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content